Passport to Empathy Reading Challenge - Building an Inclusive Reading Initiative within a Conservative Community
Encouraging students to read inclusive books in the South can be difficult even in the best of times. The influx of misinformation and the growing population of community members focused on removing stories from the narrative of society has made it even more so as we entered this school year. Not only are books being targeted for removal across the state, we've been faced with a rational fear of retaliation in our school communities for pushing back and promoting the freedom to read, let alone encouraging a reading challenge focused on increasing our student's exposure to multiple perspectives.
As school librarians, as educators, as advocates for productive citizens in our society, we know the importance of reading books that acknowledge, teach, and celebrate diverse populations. Many of us are familiar with the wise words of Rudine Sims Bishop, in which she said
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)
Reading has the ability to transport us into another character’s mind, allowing us to see and feel what they do, exposing us to a life very different from our own. Through reading, we can experience the world as another gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, or age. It can introduce us to what it's like to lose a parent, be at war, be born into poverty, or leave home to immigrate to a new country. By experiencing an author's world, we can build a deeper understanding of the complexities in our world, which influences how we relate to others in the real world. And we don't always just learn about others. We see ourselves and can feel less alone. We're able to spend time reflecting on ourselves, our own experiences, and how we interact within our society.
Our students deserve educators who are going to see them, share their stories, and encourage free thought. Who are we without our stories? Where would we be without these stories?
Luckily, I work with some amazing school librarians. In a conversation with another high school librarian down the road from me last semester, we brought up all these points and we asked ourselves what can we do. Sitting back isn't it anymore. Sliding books to students on the sly isn't it anymore. What message are we sending when we do not face the problems our students are facing head on and choose to not openly support all of our students? I used to have a quote at the bottom of my email signature from Edmund Burke (at least I believe it is from him) that stated "“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Find a supportive friend and colleague like mine who encourages you to do something!
It's because of our students that we felt the need to develop a reading challenge to help support them in their path to discovering themselves and others by reading a mile in their shoes and challenging their own biases. By stepping outside of ourselves a little at a time, I hope to encourage a love of reading while supporting their character development.
But how do you start a program like this in a conservative, Southern community when you have parents picketing outside the school because of masks? How do you promote a reading challenge that encourages students to step outside of themselves when we have families who believe January 6th is a hoax? How do you share a reading challenge like this when we have staff members who are being told to hide their true selves for fear of community pushback?
We do it gradually, gracefully, and by treading lightly.
Our reading program is heavily influenced by Read Woke and Project LIT, but we can't call it that, so let's call it what it is: A passport to empathy. Let's change the narrative with the books we read and choose to consume. Let's face our community with the language necessary to defeat the false narratives. Inviting staff members and parents to participate in this reading program helps model thinking openly.
How does the program work?
It's easy - just read!
Each month, we listed 7 books that focus on a specific theme. January is a brand new start, so we picked the theme of journeys to showcase characters who have had to start over somewhere new through immigration. The last book is a book of choice as long as it fits in the theme. I firmly believe students should always have a choice.
Once students or staff members read a book, they log their book in Beanstack (our county purchased this for every school, so this is not something I purchased for students). For every book a student reads, they earn a ticket for our monthly drawing that includes things like movie tickets, signed book copies, gift cards, etc. Other students can receive squishies or fidget toys, sticker decals, or reading buttons. The larger prizes we work with our local business partners to cover and the smaller ones I purchase myself. We also have a button maker we want to make reading badges with!
Templates for Reading Challenge
Bishop, R. S. "Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. 6 (3), ix-xi." (1990).
You’ve been BOOOOOKed! 👻
Looking for a fun alternative to the ‘Boo’ community builder? I started doing this to promote some fun for the holidays and share newer scary reads with our staff. There’s so many good things about this activity to not do it! It promotes new books, connects you with your fellow colleagues, gives others a chance to dedicate reading aloud to students and model how fun reading can be, and who doesn’t love a yummy pick me up during their day?
How does this work?
In the bag, I put a new(er) scary book, yummy goodies like ghost cookies (thanks, Target!), fun toys like vampire teeth or bubbles, and a flashlight. The card inside asks the teacher to read aloud the first chapter and then pass it on to another teacher either with their book or a scary favorite of their own. You could easily do this with library books or purchase gently used/new copies from a local bookstore. I personally purchased copies from my local store so the teachers could keep them (all of our high interest reads are always out), and this allows teachers to share their favorite scary books as well. Think of it like scary book telephone! You can mix up your titles with older ones like Rot & Ruin that need to make a comeback or newer titles like The Taking of Jake Livingston. The tweaks you can make on this open a broad interpretation for your particular needs.
Have you tried something similar?! I’d love to hear about it!
Podcasts have completely changed how I do PD. It's amazing have access to professional learning anytime, anywhere. While I started podcasts a few years ago with This American Life, I find myself listening to more and more education-centered ones.
So, where do you start? Check out my Top 10 favorites below!
My Top 10 Favorite Podcasts for School Librarians
School Librarians United with Amy Hermon
School Librarians United is a podcast dedicated to the nuts and bolts of running a successful school library. From genrefying to student library boards to diversity audits to programming, tune in to learn all about the issues and challenges school librarians face everyday!
Leading from the Library with Future Ready Librarians
This podcast from Future Ready Librarians and Shannon Miller includes stories of how school librarians are tackling the unique issues that are facing school libraries today from planning for remote student learning with equity in mind, creating flexible schedules to supporting parents and families with blended learning environments.
Moonshots Podcast: Learning Out Loud
The Moonshots Podcast goes behind the scenes of the world's greatest superstars, thinkers and entrepreneurs to discover the secrets to their success. They deconstruct their success from mindset to daily habits so that we can apply it to our lives.
TED: How to Be a Better Human
How To Be A Better Human isn’t your average self improvement podcast. Each uncover sharp insights and give clear takeaways on how YOU can be a better human. From your work to your home and your head to your heart, How To Be a Better Human looks in unexpected places for new ways to improve and show up for one another. This is a great podcast to incorporate SEL into our daily lives as librarians.
The Creative Classroom
John Spencer and the Creative Classroom has episodes about growth mindset, project-based learning, design thinking, and, of course, creativity.Are you looking to add more creativity into your MakerSpace, collaborations, or PD? This one comes out each Monday and is only about 15 minutes!
The Balance by Catlin Tucker
In each episode, Tucker talks with thought leaders to explore this complex issue, striving for ways to achieve a healthier work-life balance and address the question, ‘How do we empower ourselves to create and implement boundaries both inside and outside of the classroom?’” The Balance will help with your instructional partnerships and leading from the middle.
Dare to Lead with Brene Brown
As school librarians, we lead from the middle. This podcast is uplifting and informative as Brown includes conversations with change-catalysts, culture-shifters and more than a few troublemakers who are innovating, creating, and daring to lead.
Cult of Pedagogy
Teaching strategies, classroom management, education reform, educational technology — if it has something to do with teaching, she talks about it. On the podcast, Jennifer Gonzalez interviews educators, students, administrators and parents about the psychological and social dynamics of school, trade secrets, and other juicy things you’ll never learn in a textbook.
TNT EdTech Podcast
From the creative minds of Scott Nunes and Matthew Ketchum, TNT EdTech Podcast offers insights into a variety of topics that can support school librarians and other educators from AR/VR to English strategies to leadership styles.
The House of #EdTech
The House of #EdTech Podcast shares stories from teachers and creators about education technology, recommends the valuable tools, tips, and resources to integrate technology into your classroom and instruction. It's perfect for those who want to stay up to date with how EdTech is changing in education.
Let's celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!
If you're looking for resources, books, activities, or even a Spotify playlist, check out my Destiny Collection here.
Reader's advisory has always been one of my favorite components to being a humanities teacher turned school librarian! I love seeing the spark come alive when you're able to connect a student to a book based on their interests.
Below you'll find posters I created based on some of my favorite suggestions paired with interests students have expressed to me. Feel free to use them! The dimensions of the pdf file are 24" x 36" but can be printed as flyers or smaller if needed.
What else would you like to see? Tell me in the comments below!
I don't ask for compensation for the resources I share out. I believe in community over competition, and that we are stronger when we share with one another. My ask, though, is that if you share out with colleagues to please make sure you credit me. Thanks for keeping us honest and modeling good digital citizenship skills!
My school district started back for preplanning this week! This was my first official week at my new school and to say it's been busy would be an understatement. My new school is brand new and so I am learning how to navigate not only the transition from middle to high school but also opening a school, starting a library program from scratch, and building relationships with 70 other people who are also brand new to the school. It's been stressful, but I am also so excited to see the direction this school is moving as the first STEM school in our district.
Now that you have some background to where I'm at, you'll know that I have priorities that have been higher on my list than building out our catalog for students. However, I feel better when I've accomplished something so I started working on our homepage last night (I'm that nerd who works on nerdy things on a Friday night while watching Hamilton for the millionth time ??♀️). When I posted what I was working on to Instagram, it occurred to me that this could be useful to others as I was receiving tons of DMs about how I made this work.
I am posting a list of HTML cheat codes for you below if you'd like to freshen up your homepage!
If you're unsure of how to edit your homepage or post embedded links, keep scrolling down.
HTML Cheat Codes
How to Edit Your Homepage
Make sure you are logged in as a library administrator to your Destiny site.
Planning for the New School Year: An Essential Library Program Planner (with bonus social media planner!)
I know, I know! For many of us, it's way too early to want to think about planning for this upcoming school year. It's that feeling when you walk into Target and the back to school section is in full bloom. Heart racing and palms sweating...It's a lot for those of us who want to relax and recharge.
For school librarians, though, we can't wait until August to begin planning out programming for our patrons. Guest speakers, authors, or community organizations do not operate on a summer break, so if you want to book someone (especially for a lower cost!) you need to book early. Not to mention we all know how preplanning goes in terms of our planning - there is none. If your experience is anything like mine, your preplanning is full of meetings, helping teachers, coplanning lessons, offering technology PD, and more (*cough* fixing the laminator for the 20th time *cough*). It's ten times harder if you do not have a parapro. Program planning then takes a backseat and can end up being rushed or not done at all.
School libraries are community hubs meant to inspire connection, exploration, and creation. That takes intentional planning. I do a mix of passive programming (ex: placing legos with a prompt) and intentional programming (ex: one book, one school) throughout the year. Sometimes these programs are last minute because of a culture phenomenon like a Tik Tok Open Mic morning, but most of the time, I plan months in advance so I can arrange volunteers, teacher participation, a marketing plan, and plan for any costs.
I created this planner when I saw a need to put more intention behind my planning for programs and to help our Student Library Advisory Board think through the ins and outs of a successful program. I hope it helps you whether you use it now or later!
Tech tip: I download these planners and upload to my school library OneNote Notebook and use the drawing tool/text features to add my ideas and plans. Use the canva templates below to tweak what you need and download as a png file or pdf depending on what tech tool you use!
Ready to Print Resources
I recently had the pleasure of being able to share at the 2021 Galileo Annual Conference on the topic of advocacy. It is essential that as school librarians, we are actively engaged in advocating for our students and programs. Check out the curated list of resources I shared out during the session below.
School Librarian in Metro Atlanta